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The Twelve Tribes of Israel: Theme of the West Wall Windows

More information about the artist, Sarah Gabbert-Schmerl and her notes on the window.

The twelve long window panels on the west wall sparked the first thoughts linking the Twelve Tribes of Israel as a possible design theme for the wall. Twelve tribes--twelve window panels. The concepts and symbols for these windows came primarily from the blessing Jacob gave to his sons (Genesis 49:1-28), and from the blessing from Moses (Deuteronomy 33:1-29).

DSPT Stained Glass Windows - The Twelve Tribes of Israel

Each tribe is a different subject. Two basic design forms are used. First, the branch or vine that goes through the bottom window of each of the twelve panels in Sections 1, 2 and 3 is used to represent the living spirit of the tribes of Israel and the promise of life, continuous life, of the Jewish people. Each branch on the vine represents each tribe's number (from 1- 12), and where possible, the number of leaf forms on a branch indicates the number of sons in each tribe. Second, cloud forms across the top of windows in Section One and Section Three are used to represent the covenants God made with Noah (Genesis 9:12) and with Moses (Exodus 13:21 and Exodus 19:9). Specific color themes are important throughout the west wall. Each tribe is represented by a color derived from the gemstone accorded the tribe on Aaron's breastplate (Exodus 28:15-21 and Exodus 39:10-15).

DSPT Stained Glass - Tribe of Reuben

Tribe of Reuben

Color theme is ruby (with pale lavenders and pinks) from the precious stone sardius. One branch is shown on the vine to represent the first tribe and four leaves for the four sons of Reuben. The ruby-red flower symbolizes the mandrake that Reuben picked and gave to his mother Leah.

"Reuben came upon some mandrakes in the field and brought them to his mother Leah." Genesis 40:14

“My strength and the first fruit of my vigor, excelling in pride, excelling in might, turbulent as a flood, you shall not excel." Genesis 49:3

“May Reuben live and not die out, but may he be few in number." Deuteronomy 33:6

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DSPT Stained Glass - Tribe of Simeon


Tribe of Simeon

Color theme is dark blue chrysolite. The Simeon panel has a sober feeling. A wheat seed form is used to represent the scattering in the wind of the tribe, which was not to prosper. Red and the dagger form are symbolic of the lawlessness, bloodshed, and excesses. Six leaves represent the six sons.

"Simeon and Levi are a pair. Their weapons are tools of lawlessness ….Cursed be their anger so fierce, and their wrath so relentless. I will divide them in Jacob, scatter them in Israel." Genesis 49:5

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DSPT Stained Glass - Tribe of Levi

Tribe of Levi

Color theme is green felspar.

"The tribe of Levi, however, received no patrimony. The Lord the God of Israel is their patrimony, as he promised them." Joshua 13:14

"They shall teach your norms to Jacob and your instructions to Israel. They shall offer you incense to savor and whole offerings on your altar." Deuteronomy 33:10

The six-pointed star is symbolic of the teaching of the priestly tribe which had no land. A bird spreads the word of teaching and represents the offering; the olive branch symbolizes both the oil for the offering and peace.

DSPT Stained Glass - Tribe of Judah

Tribe of Judah

The color theme involves reds and warm ambers, reflecting the garnet in Aaron's breastplate. Design of the "Judah" panel is meant to show strength. A crown near the top of the panel symbolizes David, King of Judah. The line of red color flows down through an abstraction of the City of Jerusalem, and then further down into the abstract form of a lion. Grapes represent the wine.

“David, King of Judah; Jerusalem the Holy City.”
Psalm 78:68-71

"Judah is a lion's whelp…The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet. So that tribute shall come to him and the homage of his people be his…. He washes his garment in wine, his robe in the blood of grapes." Genesis 49:9-10

"Hear, 0 Lord, the voice of Judah and restore him to his people. Through his own hands strive for him. Help him against his foes." Deuteronomy 33:7

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DSPT Stained Glass - Tribe of Zebulun

Tribe of Zebulun

The blue of lapis lazuli is the color theme. A ship is shown floating in a vertical twisting sea, with fish and seaweed and a golden brown area for the seashore. No leaves, only branches are shown for the fifth tribe.

"Zebulun shall dwell by the seashore. He shall be a haven for ships, and his flank shall rest on Sidon." Genesis 49:13

“Rejoice, Zebulun, when you sally forth, rejoice in your tents, Issachar. They shall summon nations to the mountains; there they will offer true sacrifices. For they shall suck the abundance of the seas, and draw out the hidden wealth of the sand." Deuteronomy 33:18

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DSPT Stained Glass - Tribe of Issachar

Tribe of Issachar

Pale and dark greens are the color theme, from the gemstone jade in Aaron's breastplate. Richness and abundance are represented, with greenery, leaves and symbolic fruit forms. The ass is nestled in the greenery ("how pleasant is the country").

"Issachar is a strong-boned ass, crouching among the sheepfolds. When he saw how good was security, and how pleasant was the country, he bent his shoulder to the burden and became a toiling serf." Genesis 49:14

"Thou crownest the year with thy goodness; and thy paths drop fatness. They drop upon the pastures of the wilderness and the little hills rejoice on every side. The pastures are clothed with flocks; the valleys also are covered over with corn. They shout for joy; they also sing." Psalm 65:11-13

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DSPT Stained Glass - Tribe of Dan

Tribe of Dan

Color theme is turquoise.

"When I whet my flashing blade, and my hand lays hold on judgment, vengeance will I wreak on my foes." Deuteronomy 32:41

"Dan is a lion's whelp that leaps forth from Bashan." Deuteronomy 33:22

"Dan shall judge his people, as one of the tribes of Israel. Dan shall be a serpent by the road, a viper by the path." Genesis 49:16

The scales of justice are shown at the top, representing good and evil. There is also a serpent and a long winding road.

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DSPT Stained Glass - Tribe of Gad

Tribe of Gad

Various shades of green are the color theme, representing a gate. Gad was a strong, warlike tribe, symbolized at the top of the panel by abstract spear shapes which gather into a crown form. The eye is then focused downward to a strong sword which curves around a shield with the Star of David. City-type forms are shown being burned by flame, the symbol of destruction. This destruction is countered from below, however, by the branch moving up into the city to symbolize "good." The city will grow and build again; the ground is green and fruits denote life and growth.

"Gad, a troup shall overcome him; but he shall overcome at last." Genesis 49:19

"Blessed be he who enlarges Gad! Poised he is like a lion, to tear off arm and scalp. He chose for himself the best, for there is the portion of the revered chieftain, where the heads of the people come. He executed the Lord's judgments and His decisions for Israel." Deuteronomy 33:20

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DSPT Stained Glass - Tribe of Asher

Tribe of Asher

Many greens make up the color theme, representing jasper. Asher was a rich tribe so the artist sought a rich, golden and warm feeling in the design. Lush fruits, corn, and the olive branch which yields oil to light the menorah candles indicate this richness. Other symbols are the large menorah- for faith, and the birds- for peace.

"Asher's bread shall be rich, and he shall yield royal dainties." Genesis 49:20

“Most blessed of sons be Asher. May he be the favorite of his brothers. May he dip his foot in oil." Deuteronomy 33:24

"Thus Israel dwells in safety. Untroubled is Jacob's abode, in a land of grain and wine, under heaven's dripping dew." Deuteronomy 33:28

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DSPT Stained Glass - Tribe of Naphtali

Tribe of Naphtali

The yellows of topaz are the color theme.

“Naphtali is a hind let loose, which yields lovely fawns." Genesis 49:21

"0 Naphtali, sated with favor and full of the Lord's blessing, take possession on the west and south." Deuteronomy 33: 23

"Naphtali is a spreading terebinth putting forth lovely boughs." Genesis 49:21

Naphtali is represented by the hind and the spreading tree. The stylized shapes of foliage, tree branches, desert plains and mountains symbolize the lands on the west and south to be possessed.

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DSPT Stained Glass - Tribe of Joseph

Tribe of Joseph

The gemstone carnelian is represented by the orange and rust color theme.

"Joseph is a wild ass, a wild ass by a spring, a wild ass on a hillside." Genesis 49:22

“Yet his bow stayed taut, and his arms were made firm.”

"The blessings of your father surpass the blessings of my ancestors, to the utmost bounds of the eternal hills." Genesis 49:26

“With the bounteous yield of the sun and the bounteous crop of the moons. Or - Joseph is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well, whose branches run over the wall." Deuteronomy 33:14

A colt, hillside forms, a bow (with the lead bracing of the stained glass window designed as the bowstring), a horn of plenty and lush fruits are shown. The grey form in the bottom two windows represents the water rising out of the well which is helping the tree grow.

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DSPT Stained Glass - Tribe of Benjamin

Tribe of Benjamin

Several shades of green are the color theme, representing green jasper, a highly colored quartz.

"Benjamin is a ravenous wolf. In the morning he consumes the foe, and in the evening he divides the spoil." Genesis 49:27

"Beloved of the Lord, He rests securely beside him; ever does He protect him as he rests between His shoulders." Deuteronomy 33:12

The wolf is shown at the foot of the roadway which symbolically divides the spoils between the left and the right. Joseph is a beloved tribe, however, and the wolf is protecting the fertile hills and the city, which is symbolic as the home for the future descendants of Benjamin. Twelve branches on the vine signify the last tribe. The only purple glass in all the stained glass windows is used in the top window of this panel. Purples and lavenders, the sunset, give a feeling of richness and warmth for the last of the Twelve Tribes of Israel.

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